In a better, more perfect, world, James Gollon would be playing tonight.
He’s be in full uniform, waiting around the circle at mid-court for the opening tip-off as he and the rest of the Ohio University men’s basketball team anxiously get ready to finish off the regular season against their biggest rival.
But the world isn’t perfect, life isn’t fair and Gollon will say goodbye to the Convo and his college playing career one-year too soon. And he’ll do it from the sideline wearing a medical boot as he continues to heal following a ruptured achilles tendon suffered two months ago.
It won’t be the Senior Night he wanted. But it’s the Senior Night he’s going to get.
And it’ll be enough. Because of the friends and family who will be there to watch, and because of the guys he’ll be recognized with.
“It’s going to be tough not being able to go out there with these guys,” said Gollon, a redshirt junior whose season ended after six games because of the injury. “It’s not the way we all envisioned.
“It’s going to be emotional. I’m going to try to hold it together.”
Ohio (13-16, 5-12 Mid-American Conference) will conclude the regular-season with a 7 p.m. tipoff against Miami (15-15, 7-10 MAC) in the Convo tonight.
Before the game, Ohio will honor its senior class. Gollon, who is taking a medical disqualification because of his latest setback, will be recognized along with senior forward Doug Taylor and senior wing Gavin Block. Three-year walk-on forward Jaylin McDonald — who gave up his roster spot this year to focus on progress toward his engineering degree — will also be recognized.
Junior guard Jordan Dartis joined Gollon, Taylor and Block in the same recruiting class four years ago, but it taking a medical redshirt this season. He will not be among those honored.
The 2015 recruiting class — which also included forward Ellis Dozier who left the program after three years — was to be the building block for Saul Phillip’s Bobcat roster. It never came together as seamlessly as everyone hoped.
Dartis was an instant breakout star from the group, but hasn’t practice in nearly a year because of hip issues. Taylor came to Ohio fresh off a major knee injury in high school, and has played despite a mangled left hand this year. Block endured a season full of pain a year ago, as he played through abdominal injuries that eventual resulted in a pair of sports hernia operations last off season.
And then there’s Gollon. He’s had five operations over the course of a little more than three years. If there’s anyone who feels their playing career has been cursed, or star-crossed, it’s got to be him right?
Well, yes and no.
"It’s part of sport obviously, but it gets to a point where there’s so many you got to wonder,” he said Thursday, after chatting with sophomore forward Teyvion Kirk during some post-practice shooting.
It would be easy to feel cursed. But even if the Bobcats’ senior class does feel a bit unlucky, it also feels blessed.
Over the last two years of broken bones, torn ligaments and the mental fatigue associated with all of it, the Bobcats found something among all the missed games and missed season.
They had each other.
Cursed? No, that’s not it all, said Block.
If Block was cursed he wouldn’t have met Gollon. If Taylor was cursed, he wouldn’t have gotten to play alongside Dartis for three full seasons. If Gollon was cursed, he wouldn’t have met of them.
“I don’t think we feel that way. We know that nothing is handed to us easily, or given to us. We’ve gone through a lot of adversity and handled it well, as a whole,” he said. “We’re just blessed with who we got to be here with.”
Ohio will face Miami on Friday night and will be trying to extend its best basketball of the season out to five full games. The Bobcats will try to generate more momentum for the MAC Tournament. They’ll be trying to improve their seed and/or potential first-round road matchup.
But the real purpose of this game, at least for Gollon, Taylor and Block, is embrace what the last four years have meant and not what they’ve cost.
“Me, James and Doug going out together, it’s going to be pretty special,” Block said. “I just want to go out with a bang.”
In a way, Gollon did get that. In his final college game, Gollon scored 13 points in nine minutes before his sudden, and unfair, career-ending injury. It was the latest setback in a college career that had too many.
But even now, even on the day he’s about to say goodbye to the building and people where he’s spent so much of his time, passion and energy, he’ll be looking to appreciate it all before he begins the next chapter of his life.
Gollon and his signing class didn’t win as many games as they wanted. They didn’t stay as healthy as they wanted. They didn’t get a perfect final season.
But through all of that, they did have each other. And that’s enough.
"It may seem like we all got our own personal stuff figured out, but at the same time it’s difficult ending things because we’ve gone through all that stuff together, you know?” Gollon said.
“Maybe we feel cursed in retrospect, but it’s so much bigger than that. Even if they don’t see that yet, that’s what I see right now,” he continued.
“These guys will be brothers for life. That’s what I love about it. These guys will be here for me, for life, and I’ll be there for them.”